A reader wrote in with this question:
Scientists know that one day we'll run out of oil and other natural sources of energy. Beyond solar power and wind power and ethanol, what are some other potential alternative energy sources?
Here's the answer:
Of course, wind and solar power are valuable technologies, even though they're not close to the point of being able to replace fossil fuels as our main energy source. So scientists are always on the lookout for other possibilities.
In fact, a plant scientist named Gary Strobel recently discovered a very interesting and unusual possibility: a South American fungus that makes the chemical compounds found in diesel fuel. The fungus lives and feeds on cellulose, a material found in things like wheat, barely, straw, leaves – basically almost any plant material. The fungus breaks down cellulose, and then somehow converts it to the diesel-like chemical.
Cultivation On A Large Scale?
It's not yet clear if the fungus can be cultivated on a large scale and used to produce actual fuel to power cars and planes and everything else that burns fuel. That will require more research into the fungus. But it's a promising find none the less.
The world is full of a nearly unlimited amounts of renewable plant waste material like leaves and straw and other things the fungus needs to thrive. If the fungus does pan out as a way to make fuel, it could play an important role in helping to solve the world's energy problems.